36 Seasons (to be released Dec. 9, 2014)
I had an interesting convo with my brother-in-law over Thanksgiving.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s latest album, A Better Tomorrow, had just hit the Internet streets and I was reminiscing about the glory days of the Wu. And while he’s a huge music fan, the young homie, who is in his early 20s, just couldn’t relate to my excitement. He respects the Wu’s history and influence, but in 2014, he just can’t relate to their dense lyricism and heavy themes.
It’s hard to be mad at him. He came up in an era where “good” hip hop is defined by overly lush production and outlandish punchlines. The gritty, minimalistic tracks and esoteric wordplay that are the Wu’s trademark are products of a bygone era. He just can’t relate.
He’s missing out though.
Ghostface Killah, the street poet who has emerged as the Wu’s Iron Flag bearer, rarely makes music that panders to rap’s younger generation of fans. Instead, he evolves his sound while sticking to his roots.
Ghost’s last album, Twelve Reasons to Die, was essentially a B-movie horror story on wax, a story of a wronged gangster rising from the dead to exact revenge. On his latest, 36 Seasons, Ghost continues to play with the revenge concept, except taking the blaxploitation route.
Trust, revenge never sounded so sweet.
GFK steps into the role of a former high-powered hustler who returns to his neighborhood after a bid. Although he says in the album opener “The Battlefield” that he “wants a clean slate,” he still has a chip on his shoulder — “I walk down the street and sneeze, they all bless me.” Ghost is in rare form as he fleshes out his narrative over dusty soul tracks, mostly provided by The Revelations.
Ghost quickly learns that things done changed. GFK’s girl Bamboo, portrayed by rising soul singer Kandace Springs on “Love Don’t Live Here No More,” turns her back on him, causing Pretty Tone to fall back into the street life on “Here I Go Again.” Without giving away too much of the story, things quickly spiral out of control with Ghost nearly losing his life and “Dr. X” (AKA Pharoah Monche) bestowing him with a face mask made of “adamantium and vibranium,” culminating with a war on the streets.
Yeah, this ain’t your little brother’s 106 & Park rap.
Rap veteran AZ serves as Ghost’s costar; he’s featured on nearly half the album’s tracks and is the perfect partner. Both AZ and Ghostface are masters of painting lyrical pictures. Close your eyes while listening to “Pieces of the Puzzle,” the turning point of the story, and you can see the tale of betrayal unfold in your mind.
Like Twelve Reasons to Die, 36 Seasons works best when the tracks are played in sequence. It’s like binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix — once each song ends, you’re dying to hear the next chapter. Separately, they’re good. Together, they’re essential.
36 Seasons is the highest form of hip-hop artistry — using lyrics to craft a gripping, 40-minute narrative that could easily be a adapted into an art house film. It certainly won’t appeal to all rap fans — it forces the listener to fully commit to the world Ghost has created. That might be tough for some fans to swallow, those who are more accustomed to quick, digestible soundbites than full-course meals.
Regardless, you won’t find a better example of da art of storytellin’. 36 Seasons is the best movie you’ve heard all year.
Best tracks: “Love Don’t Live Here No More,” “Here I Go Again,” “Pieces of the Puzzle”
4 stars out of 5